Almanac Soccer – That Other World Cup in Europe: The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest single sporting event in the World. Held every four years the tournament is a behemoth that begun eating itself commercially and politically becoming morally bankrupt quite some time ago. The women’s version of FIFA’s blue ribbon event is only just getting started in the scheme of things and will reach another level from this weekend but will embrace why the men’s tournament has captured the hearts and minds of so many. A tournament and a part of the sport itself that is only now  finding widespread acceptance and respect.

 

 

Women have played the sport since its inception and even more so with evidence of a similar game played in Ancient China. Clubs became more common in the UK during the First World War when factory teams would be created to help promote recreation for women. This was done without the support of the English FA who completely banned women’s football on association pitches in 1922 deeming it as ‘distasteful’ and forcing matches to be moved to rugby club pitches. It wasn’t until the late 60s and early 70s that the sport was again deemed acceptable following a boom in the sport in the UK thanks to the 1966 men’s World Cup victory. England and numerous other countries overturned their bans in 1970 and beyond. This was mainly led by Italy who had the first semi-professional players and held intermittent European Championships.

 

 

While invitational tournaments took place for countries it wasn’t until 1986 that someone officially lobbied FIFA and campaigned for a Women’s World Cup equivalent to the firmly established and renowned Men’s tournament. Ellen Wille, a Norweigan Football delegate who had fought for women’s rights in the game in her native country, made her pitch to FIFA. With the usual Game of Thronesque skulduggery that comes with anything FIFA does with decision making, Wille got her way. With the help of another determined pioneer in Hong Kong Businesswoman Veronica Chan an invitational tournament was held in China to see if a tournament would be feasible. After strong attendances and a decent standard it was deemed a success and the first Women’s FIFA World Cup would go ahead in China in 1991.

 

 

The thing is though FIFA didn’t refer to it as a World Cup just in case it was a failure and tainted the trademark name. Therefore the historic tournament would be known as:

 

 

‘The 1st FIFA World Champions for Women’s Football: Sponsored by M&Ms’.

 

 

12 teams took part including New Zealand who had eliminated Australia on the road to history. The USA won the first tournament defeating Norway 2-1. FIFA were not embarrassed and belatedly welcomed the competition in from the cold. In 1995 the second tournament was held in Sweden with the same 12 team format. It also included time outs and other meddling with the great game as the women’s game at the elite level became  a testing ground for FIFA’s rule experiments. This would also mark the Matildas first foray in to the finals under the tutelage of the affable Glaswegian Tom Sermanni. Unfortunately Australia made up the numbers losing all three games as Norway honoured Wille winning their first World Cup.

 

 

Now expanded to 16 teams, the third installment in 1999 found its way to the USA as the tournament found serious traction. Australia went out at the first hurdle again but had their first point in a 1-1 draw with Ghana. Captain and Matildas legend Julie Murray scored the first ever goal at a World Cup for our women’s team for those who like to bank future quiz night questions. The 1999 Final is probably remembered as one of the most iconic. In front of some 90,000 at the Rose Bowl (site of the 1994 men’s final) the Americans outlasted the Chinese to win on penalties after a nervous and dour 0-0 draw. After converting the winning penalty defender Brandi Chistain ripped off her shirt and dropped to her knees in her sports bra in an iconic moment.

 

 

The United States again hosted the 2003 event after China cancelled their hosting due to SARS. In their best result to date Australia managed to draw with the previous runners up but ultimately failed to make it out of the group stage. Germany, so long a force in men’s football, had their first title after defeating Sweden in a final that lacked the host nation and crowds of four years previous.

 

 

By 2007 in China the Matildas had finally begun to build a head of steam under the tutelage of Sermanni in his second stint as coach. With a mix of seasoned veterans and young stars that still play for Australia to this day this team finally grabbed the attention that went beyond racy calendars and other such crass marketing. Australia won their first ever game defeating Ghana 3-1. They then managed to draw with heavyweights Norway and Canada with the latter coming after a goal from veteran captain Cheryl Salisbury in her final World Cup after some 120 appearances.

 

 

In the quarter final they would go down to a brilliant Brazil side 3-2. There were many heroes in this side but Lisa De Vanna, a passionate striker with a temper as stable as nitroglycerin, was an absolute star. Four goals in many games saw Lisa be selected for the All-Star side of the tournament and get nominated for FIFA Women’s player of the year. The tournament came just after her father had also passed away with her gesturing the sky after every goal etched in Matildas folk lore. After her heroics and playing through tragedy she would return to her job at a 24-hour petrol station in the outer suburbs of Perth such was the continued amateur struggle of the sport. In the 2007 final Germany made it two in a row brushing aside Brazil 3-0.

 

 

In 2011 the establishment and/or continued growth of professional women’s leagues around the world made the sixth World Cup (to be held in Germany) the biggest yet. The Matildas had won the Asian Cup in 2010, something that had expectation suddenly heaps upon the side with more young talent now introduced including a 17-year old Sam Kerr and Elyse Perry still in two minds about her commitment to the World Game or the Red Ball one. In front of huge crowds in state of the art German stadia Australia again made it to the quarter finals thanks mainly to Kyah Simon. Simon was a 20 year prodigious indigenous talent who scored twice against Norway in the final group game. The documentary ‘No Apologies’ showed her rise through adversity to the top level. Norway’s  Scandinavian cousins Sweden eliminated Australia easily in the quarter finals unfortunately. In what would rub further salt in to the wounds Japan, a side Australia had knocked out of the Asian Cup, won the tournament in a history making first for Asia.

 

 

Canada, continuing the tradition of North American power in the women’s game, would host in 2015. Under Allen Stajcic Australia would take part in an expanded 24 team competition. While their group stage form was patchy Australia finally had revenge on Brazil, a side who had eliminated them before winning 1-0 in a spiteful match that has created an animosity between the side that continues to this day. Once again though Australia fell in the quarter finals to fellow AFC nation and defending champs Japan who would go on to make the final but would fall short against a vengeful United States side.

 

 

Over the previous seven World Cups have created a narrative that the women’s side of the sport can most definitely hang its hat on. The USA are still the swaggering champs, Asian sides good enough on their day while European nations continue to gain ground on their opponents. This is has a lot more money and resources now poured in to the leagues and teams. Paris Saint-Germain, not content with altering competition through oil money on the men’s side, are now putting the bucks in to their women’s side which may see Kerr forsake her hometown club Perth Glory for Paris or another cashed up European team.

 

 

Stereotypes are also being called out and confronted through marketing by the teams. Germany’s promotional video is blunt with it’s message “We play for a nation that doesn’t even know our names.”

 

 

Nike had for so long been the producer of a massive pre-World Cup advert for the men’s tournament now do one for the women’s tournament in between exploiting workers and other world conquering exercises. The strip designs made by Nike for the Women’s sides are also unique to breakaway from wearing whatever the men’s national sides would. This  echoes in the Matildas strip for the tournament.

 

 

 

For France 2019 the final will be held in Lyon rather than Paris as an appreciation to Lyon for being the first city to embrace the women’s side of the game at a club level. Ticket sales and interest point towards the tournament being a massive success. Around 1,000,000 tickets sold so far.

 

 

There are of course still missteps from the old guard that show off continued ignorance and misogyny. Sepp Blatter refers to himself as ‘The godfather of Women’s Football’ yet didn’t even recognise the world player of the year nomination Alex Morgan at the ceremony. The head of the Italian women’s FA is was told by the Italian Prime Minister that he didn’t want to give money to a “bunch of Lesbians”. The Italian legend Carolina Morace managed to take over as the coach of a third division Italian side but lasted two games due to the abuse and misgivings by the club. She ended up coaching for a short time at Floreat Athena in little old Perth.

 

 

Despite the continued narrowing of the gap between the men and women pay wise there are still disputes. The Matildas themselves campaign for a fairer wage in a battle with the FFA that made headlines for the wrong reasons. FIFA also played the last World Cup on artificial pitches that almost resulted in a boycott due to no consultation with the players. Then there is also the issues in Latin America where sponsorship dollars are nigh on impossible to attain for players and clubs.

 

 

Hopefully though the positives should massively outweigh the negatives over the next month but the most important questions is….how will the Matildas do?

 

 

It’s been well documented that the lead up hasn’t been great. After a whirlwind couple of years the shock sacking of Stajcic showed that the reverse-midas touch of the waste of skin that is FFA CEO David Gallop is never out of reach. This Matildas is still box office despite the drama. Apart from the coaching upheaval they are a still national side heading in the right direction which cannot be said for many Australian sides. Kerr is now captain and one of the best in the World. There’s Williams, Polkinghorne, Cately, Van Egmond, Ford, Di Vanna (in her last tournament). The class runs deep and can beat anyone.

 

 

One positive to come from the Stajcic mess has been the appointment of NSL legend Ante Milicic as head coach. The gruff ex-striker had missed out on A-League coaching roles on numerous times but finally got his chance in the most unlikely and unwanted of circumstances. A former assistant to brother-in-law Tony Popovic at Western Sydney Wanderers, he has the potential to right the listing ship. Going out in the group stages would be a disaster, the first knockout round a massive disappointment, quarter finals a not so gracious acceptance all things considered. We can go so much better than that though. With the rest of the world catching up the Matildas will find more competition with better resources to battle against the coming years. The W-League has been fantastic for opportunities but the European and American far outweigh it financially.

 

 

Chances like this will not come about too often. This side is a blessing to Australian sport. A team packed with amazing stories of adversity and brilliance. Some stories are only just beginning, some will be wrapped up in France.

 

 

AUSTRALIA V ITALY-9pm Sunday June 9

AUSTRALIA V BRAZIL-2am Saturday June 15

AUSTRALIA V JAMAICA-5am Wednesday June 19

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Dennis,
    That is one hell of a read.
    Thanks for this.

  2. G’day Dennis you seem to have a good knowledge of the round ball game.

    To digress from the area of gender , over to racism, do you know much about the career of Cyrille Regis, one of the few black soccer players in England through the 1970’s. He was considered a trail blazer in the game, and despite encountering racism both on and off the pitch, opened the door for black soccer players.

    I’ve asked a few people about him, but have not really learnt much about him.

    Glen!

  3. Dennis Gedling says

    Thanks Glen(!). Yes I do know of Cyrille and the ‘Three Degrees’. There’s a book called ‘The Three Degrees: The men who changed British Football Forever’ by Paul Rees that came out a few years ago about him and the two teammates at West Brom Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Bateson.

    Some of the commentary from back then when vitriol was aimed at them when they had the ball.

    “Laurie Cunningham being booed there, but continues unperturbed.”

  4. I watched last night (peeking through fingers). It was scrappy and ugly with lots of really basic skill errors. Big game nerves or is that the general standard of women’s football? The high defensive line tactic seemed ripe for exploitation and our defenders looked like elephants on ice when the ball got in behind.
    The Matildas did not look a coherent team and Milicic appears on a hiding to nothing. Is that because of the Stajic sacking or does it point to the longer term “cultural” issues that precipitated his demise?

  5. Bit of both. The high line killed them but as said above the power is now shifting to Europe so Italy were no easy beats. Brazil is next which will be just as tough but Australia know how to beat them. Perhaps the wins over this ageing Brazil side and a rebuilding Japan had us drinking our own bathwater a bit of the past 18 months.

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